The radio shook in Draper's hands as he spoke into it. “From what Max said the main concentration of them is close to Grant Park, looking at the maps I can see several possible locations for your main objective. Get out there and take a look around, but pay close attention to the Archicenter, the Art Institute, the CNA Center, and the Metropolitan Tower. If I had to guess from the hazy picture Max gave me the target is in the Archicenter. I am dropping off a team now to assist you.”
Randy on the other end of the radio was writing notes down on a yellow pad of paper. “Okay, we will meet you at Lake and Canal in five.”
“We are arriving there now. The two men will take position in the rental car place on the north east corner. Good luck.”
Turning down the radio Randy said, “We gotta go now, they are waiting for us. We need to avoid firing weapons or drawing attention to ourselves at all cost.”
“So we suit up. How far is it?”
“Three blocks, here, take mine.” Randy thrust his camo suit at Katie, she stared at it for a moment.
“Why?” she asked with incomprehension.
“Yours is more damaged from where I shot you. The bite out of mine is smaller; it will give you better coverage.”
“I wasn't asking that.”
Randy sighed, “You have to get through Katie. You have to. Every edge we can give you might not be enough. I’m bit, probably infected and more of a liability to the mission. How are you doing on ammunition?”
“Low, I have twelve rounds of high velocity left, but only eight or so subsonic. My pistol has two magazines and some change.”
“I think one of Draper's guys has more, but no subs. So go light for now, tote the rifle and carry the pistol for this first leg of it.”
“Yessir!” Katie said, saluting him sharply. She technically outranked him.
“Hey.” Randy said, grabbing her hand, “Don't be like that.”
“You've as much said that you are going to die and most likely I am too, how do you want me to be?”
“I don't know. Stoic?”
“I think I can see the logic of not having mixed sniper teams now. Or teams that are homo or lesbian.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I love you.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“I..” Randy began, only to be cut off by Katie.
“Love has no place here, not in this, not in the field, not now. You think you would love your partner any less if you were both men? I know I would love my sister in arms just as much. It comes from spending so much time training together, always being together, never being able to be apart. We are closer than most married couples. If I had to put a description on this, I would say we are like twelve-year old sisters on the longest road trip in history in the back of our parents car. We can't get away from each other so we make the best of it. I see you at your worst and at your best; I know you better than my real sisters or friends. So we fuck on the side, who really gives a shit? I won't have you saying I can't do the job because we partnered up in more ways than the one the Army wanted us to.”
Randy looked at her a moment, then said, “Couldn't we be brothers in the back seat.”
“I mean sisters doesn't really fit my style. Then there is the whole incest connotation.”
“I always knew you were gay anyway.”
“Fine, how about cousins? Then we don't have any gender bending that puts me out of my comfort zone.”
“Whatever. But don't ruin my career by saying the old policies the Army had were right.”
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that.”
“You meant it exactly like that. You don't want to see me die, you don't want to abandon me and I can see you will, if you think it will let me get away or complete this insanity.”
“Can I be sorry for thinking that, but still think it?”
“Sure. C'mon we gotta go, you said those guys are waiting for us.” She threw Randy's camo suit back to him.
Reluctantly he nodded then they got dressed and headed out.
They made it two blocks through almost deserted streets when they heard the shots ringing out. Before they moved into a jog Randy had them power on their suits. The loose, poncho-like garments were not as useful when the user was moving, it made them look like slightly reflective ghosts. When they paused a block away from the car rental place, they all but disappeared.
“At least the suits are working,” said Randy gesturing towards a zombie that was just loitering in the street, not approaching them at all.
“Good thing I packed up the rifle.” Katie said sarcastically, pointing at the twenty or thirty zombies moving around between the cars ahead of them.
“They will have to sort it out, I am not getting closer to them dressed up like this, they might shoot me by mistake. Let me call them and tell them we are here.”
Randy spoke into his mic and then said, “They said to come through on the south side, to aim for the white SUV, there!” Randy raised his glossy arm up to point out the vehicle ahead of them.
They ran the block with no problem and when they arrived at the vehicle they were startled when the locks opened automatically.
“Nice trick, they unlocked it from the rental building when they saw us arrive.”
"I thought our suits were working!"
Shrugging Randy replied, "They seem to work good enough against the zombies, which is all that really matters. At least they opened the doors for us."
“I'll have to thank them for that.” Katie said, stowing her rifle in the back seat. “Are we going hunting?”
“Yeah, let’s sneak up on a few of the faster ones and cap them.”
Most of the zombies in the parking lot were taking cover among the cars, this meant that they were not the slow, stupid zombies that were the norm in the city. Katie moved behind one who looked up at her just before she shot it in the face. On the other side of the same vehicle, Randy's pistol went off almost simultaneously.
“I think she saw me before I shot her.”
“Mine didn't seem to notice. Let's be careful, watch your field of fire.”
“I'm a sniper, not stupid.”
“We haven't had to worry about this yet.”
“Fine mom, I won't shoot towards the shack.”
In the rental building two troopers had their rifles pointed out of broken windows, looking for targets. They were not wasting their bullets on the few slow moving zombies that were shambling closer towards them, but trying to hit the ones that had taken cover behind the cars. Katie saw a shotgun barrel stick out from under the car ahead of her, she quickly ducked down to ground level and aimed at the fatigue clad figure laying there.
She paused, he looked like a living man, his uniform was a little dirty, but it was standard issue military. His gun, however, was not, it looked like a new shotgun taken off the shelf of an outdoor merchandise store. The zombie was about Katie's age and he turned towards her to reveal a bloody furrow through his hairline above his right eye. He saw her and tried to swing the shotgun around, but Katie fired on him first, it took two shots, the first glanced off of his cheek, blowing out part of his tongue and several fragments of teeth. Her second shot caught him right in the bridge of the nose and he stopped moving.
Randy moved up and quickly fired into two separate zombies dropping them both, then the soldiers in the rental company opened the door and headed towards them. Randy crouched down and covered them, Katie, closer to the vehicle, covered Randy's back and kept her eyes peeled for encroaching zombies that might try to sneak up from another direction. She also noticed that one of the two soldiers was lagging behind, as if injured.
A super zombie rushed out at the slow soldier, Randy's pistol barked and the balding man in a business suit jerked spasmodically before one of the bullets caught him in the ear. Katie heard footsteps behind her and turned to see a smart zombie sneaking up on her with a baseball bat.
“Little pig, little pig, let me in...” the zombie muttered coming towards her, “I know you are there you naughty little swine. I'll...”
Katie's shot blew through its cheek and sprayed the windshield of the car behind the SUV with black and red flecks mixed with bone and hair. The first soldier jumped into the driver's side door, the wounded man rushed to the door behind the driver and Randy called 'shotgun' and took the front seat next to the driver. Katie had just enough time to claw the door behind Randy open, jump in and then slam it closed before the car lurched forward into another zombie.
The man beside her was holding her gun on his lap, his own rifle was pointing at the cargo space behind them.
“Tucker?” he asked, Katie nodded, “I'm Lewis, glad to meet you.” Lewis dug around inside his fatigues for something, coming out with a box of ammunition, passing it over he said, “I brought these for you.”
Katie grabbed the box and was just about to say 'thanks' when the window on the other side of Lewis burst in, peppering them with glass. Lewis's helmet hit Katie in the face with enough force to make her see stars.
“Fuck!” The other soldier yelled, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
Bullets peppered the car and Heath turned a corner and headed towards a bridge on Lake street. They left the gunfire behind, but Lewis was hit, he was slumped over and not moving. Katie pushed his body back against the seat and evaluated him.
“Christ. Was he bit?”
The other soldier looked over his shoulder, veering dangerously in the street, “What?”
“Was Lewis bitten?”
“No, some zed winged him with a shotgun, he'll be okay....What?”
“Dead.” Katie said quietly. “Came in over his armor, under his helmet.”
“Fuck. All right I am taking Lake street up to Michigan, then down towards the Archicenter.”
“You better park us somewhere away from it, they said the target was around there, we need to get close and move into position carefully.”
“I will get us within five blocks and won't take Michigan all the way down. Will that work?”
“I don't know Chicago that well, we were supposed to be picked up on the other side of the canal, so this is beyond what I memorized for the mission.”
“No worries honey, I'm a native, I grew up here.”
“At least they sent us a good guide.”
“The right men for the job. I suppose it is just 'Man' now, isn't it? I am Heath.”
“Where are all the zombies Heath?”
“Headed towards Iowa, don't worry though, there are still a shitload of them here. This guy Max said there were more than he could count if you believe in that sort of stuff.”
“Yeah, but Draper said it seemed to be real. He couldn't pinpoint zeds for us, but he knew where they were and he had some way of telling which ones of them were stronger than others.”
“You talked to him?” asked Randy.
“No, he was up on the engine with Draper. Draper seemed impressed with the guy. Hated to leave him like that.”
“What is going on?”
Heath smiled, “Me and Lewis, we volunteered for escorting you to the target. You wanna guess how much they told us about their mission?”
“The zombies can't get it out of us if we don't know it in the first place. You know how they took over the anti-aircraft and missile battery?”
Randy and Katie shook their heads, but Randy ventured, “Torture?”
“No, not at all. They killed some military guys, then brought them back, then made them smart again, then sent them after the battery.”
“We don't know, but if they bring you back, they can control you. Like those zeds back at the car lot, the slow, stupid ones were being used to draw our fire so the brighter ones could get into place. If a zombie eats enough other people, it gets smarter, they went over it before we left, showed us a video of a captured one they fed blood to, a lot of blood, it got smart. There were other videos with other captured ones, pairs or groups of them, it worked the same way for all of them. The intel guys got some of them to talk and demonstrate some things, so this isn't conjecture. Here we are.” Heath pulled the SUV over to one side of the street and parked it. Taking the keys out he paused, then turned and put them back into the ignition. “For luck,” he said to Katie with a shrug, “You never know if someone else will need a ride.”
Randy said, “That way, right Heath?”
“Good then we will go through the buildings so we aren't exposed so much.”
“I like that plan. Zombies with guns give me the creeps.”
“As opposed to normal zombies?” Katie asked as Randy broke into a large office building in front of the car.
“Normal zeds are okay by me.”
“Hey, you left the turn signal on.” Katie said, noticing the lights blinking on the car.
“Yeah, I'm stupid like that. Forget it. Let's get moving.”